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Culture: Music from a maestro

Matthew Fletcher
Matthew Fletcher

He’s appeared with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Danielle De Niese, played at Wigmore Hall and Glyndebourne, but now pianist Matthew Fletcher bring his talents to his home town to play at Suffolk Sinfonia’s spring concert. Debbie Rodman discovers how this award-winning pianist was born with music in his veins.

There was probably little doubt that Matthew Fletcher would have a passion for music. In fact, it’s fair to say it was in his blood.

Growing up at his Depden home he was surrounded by sound. “Mum played organ at our village church, and would take us along when she went to practise. She would also play Chopin and Debussy on the piano at home, and as a toddler I would sit at the piano imitating ‘church music’ (organ practice) and ‘Mummy’s music’ (Chopin/Debussy),” he explaines.

At just four years of age, Matthew started piano lessons and from there the only way was up.

Now 28, he’s an award-winning accompanist, chamber musician and répétiteur, working at Glyndebourne Opera House and the Royal Academy of Music.

And on March 17 he returns to home turf to perform Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No 2 with the Suffolk Sinfonia at their spring concert in The Apex, Bury St Edmunds.

He’s returning to where it all began, where he first caught the music bug. “Mum and dad are both music lovers and listened to lots of music,” he told Culture. “They both also sing and play, or have played, various instruments, although neither are professional musicians.”

And the family’s musical bent doesn’t end there. “I’m one of four siblings and we all play various instruments,” Matthew explained. “We had a family brass quartet when we were teenagers, but I’m the only one who has pursued music as a career. The others still play and we still go to concerts together.”

From those early piano lessons, Matthew then turned his attention to learning trumpet and the organ. “Suffolk County Music service activities really helped spark my obsession with music. First the Saturday morning orchestra/wind band/jazz group, then the West Suffolk Youth Orchestra (conducted by Neil Carlson!), West Suffolk Youth Jazz Orchestra, and the Suffolk Youth Orchestra. It was this collaborative music making early in my musical education that really fuelled my interest – and collaborative music making, as opposed to solo piano, is what I now do for a living.”

A love of jazz has stuck with Matthew since those teenage years and he attributes that to a particular teacher. “County Upper School had a teacher while I was there called Tim Jenkins – he ran a Swing band, which fuelled my love for jazz, and he also encouraged a few of us to set up our own smaller jazz ensemble – that was a great experience, and by the time we reached sixth form we were doing gigs with that group all around West Suffolk.”

After leaving school, Matthew went on to get a double 1st class degree in music from Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he was organ scholar, before studying piano accompaniment at the Royal Academy of Music. After graduating five years ago, he has worked as a freelance pianist ever since.

So what have been the highlights? “I have performed several duo recitals at Wigmore Hall in London, which is a beautiful venue, so that is always a joy and playing in the pit with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at Glyndebourne – we have done several pieces, Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortileges, with big piano parts – was particularly enjoyable,” he recalled.

Matthew says he has too many favourite pieces to list, but follows a particular ethos. “For work, it’s important to love the piece you are working towards performing at the moment – so at the moment this Shostakovitch concerto!”

It will be the second time Matthew has played with Suffolk Sinfonia. “I performed Grieg’s Piano Concerto in 2012 and Haydn Trumpet Concerto as a sixth former in maybe 2005 or 6. I loved the venue, and am looking forward to playing the Shostakovitch there, and exploring the intimate moments of the piece.

“I remember The Apex feeling very compact and good for communication with both your colleagues and the audience – I think we’ll be able to find some beautiful soft colours for the middle movement that you might not be able to get away with in some larger venues.”

Along with the Shostakovitch concerto, the concert programme includes Rimsky-Korsakov’s Overture Russian Folk Songs and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 3.

But what does a man with so much music in his life do in his downtime? Matthew explains the nature of his work means he gets to enjoy a lot of daytime with his wife, soprano Joanna Songi, and his two young daughters, Ella, three, and Alice, eight months, at their East Sussex home. But music and particularly jazz is never far away: “In terms of listening to music not related to work, I love jazz and I’m looking forward to seeing Wynton Marsalis and Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra at the Barbican at the end of February,” he enthused.

As the saying goes ‘Let music be the food of love’ and this spring concert is serving up a feast.

Suffolk Sinfonia Spring Concert, March 17, The Apex, Bury St Edmunds. Call 01284 758000 or visit theapex.co.uk

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